With his visit on Wednesday to Cambodia, former prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh has virtually opened this country to interference in its internal affairs and further complicated the Thai-Cambodian border conflict.
The trip was claimed to have been taken in a private capacity, to help ease Cambodian-Thai relations which have been soured by the Preah Vihear temple dispute.
Regrettably, the outcome appears to have had the opposite, and insulting, effect.
News reports quoting Cambodian Premier Hun Sen as saying his country was prepared to shelter fugitive prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra are a direct slap in the face of the Thai government, if not all its people.
The statement by Mr Hun Sen – quoted by General Chavalit, and local and international media – that he would arrange a beautiful house for Thaksin to stay in, makes it harder for the Cambodian leader and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to look the other in the eye when they meet at the Asean summit in Hua Hin this weekend.
It may perhaps be premature to guess why the Cambodian leader chose to say what he reportedly said. However, Mr Hun Sen’s statements only confirm the long-standing rumour that personal ties between the Cambodian prime minister and Thaksin reach beyond Thailand and Cambodia’s sovereign interests.
One might even construe from his statements that the Cambodian leader has demonstrated his personal friendship with Thaksin is far more important than Thai-Cambodian relations which dictate the well-being of people living on both sides of the border.
And this only raises more doubts about the chances of the two countries being able to successfully resolve the long-standing border dispute in the near future.
As a former prime minister and currently chief adviser of the opposition Puea Thai Party, Gen Chavalit can actually help contribute towards improving Cambodian-Thai diplomatic relations.
His long personal connections with the Cambodian government and military leaders are considered a great resource, if they were put to better use for the peoples of the two countries.
It is a sad disappointment that he has used that resource only to help prop up the legitimacy of the one man who brought him out of what till recently had seemed a permanent political retirement.
It is widely accepted that the Cambodian-Thai border dispute is a complicated affair. It requires patience, a friendly attitude and the political will of the top leaders to resolve the problem.
Mr Hun Sen – in a sudden change to Phnom Penh’s previous stance in trying to make the border conflict a regional or international issue – has suggested that the dispute be tackled through the two countries’ border commission.
This perhaps was the only good news brought home by Gen Chavalit’s delegation.
The Preah Vihear border dispute is a conflict between two friendly countries and should definitely be resolved peacefully through their border mechanism which has been established for the purpose.
Any success through this mechanism will hinge largely on the condition that both sides create an atmosphere conducive to fruitful discussion.
Embarrassing a negotiating party – like what Mr Hun Sen has just done to the Thai government – certainly does not promote the desired friendly atmosphere.